Summer Haze: II

I shouldn't have told you I was ticklish. Every time I stretched myself you'd tickle me and I'd end up laughing out loud; mad that you're the opposite of ticklish. I had an awareness of those times, the times that we did what lovestruck lovers do. They had a silliness that made me cringe and love them.

We spent the day after in your bed, drugged and intoxicated by the rough events of the night. It felt like there was no life before you. If there was, all I could remember was the gray paleness of it--the night shift work that I hated; the dates that never prospered that made me feel like I was looking too hard, almost forcing to find love. The feeling that at 33 I was still muddling through life, still figuring out things I should have figured out when my age was still in the calendar. The general feeling that I was being left out and eased out of whatever wonder there was in life. But being there, beside you, on that bed felt like it was right; I found a place where I could be. There was a sudden surge of life in me, as if I've been unplugged for so long.



It was there that I knew the bits and pieces of you. Your work as a marketing executive in GMA, handling new media and Internet content; how it seemed so important compared to mine, managing people in a call center. You talked of the stars you've met, the rumors attached to them and the office gossip of who has been caught doing the nasty in their dressing rooms. I felt a tinge of envy that at 30 you seemed more successful, more self-assured while I languished in ordinary obscurity.

You talked of your family, your ex-military father and three younger sisters, two of them married, while you clasped my hand with yours, staring at the ceiling, perhaps remembering your life with them, the small disappointments when you didn't turn out to be the way they wanted you to be. You visit them sometimes. On Christmas or birthdays, you drive to Bulacan and spend a few days with them. It was enough, you said. Beyond that you get irritated when they ask questions, poke into your very unmarried life.

"Never had a girlfriend?" I asked you.

"I've had three, the last one ended two years ago."

"For how long?"

"Two years."

"Why did it end?"

"I fell out of love, I guess."

"Did you know then?"

"Since college. But I've been attracted to girls, too. So I forced myself that way."

"Ever had a boyfriend?"

"No. Just dated."

"When?"

"Two years ago."

"You're a late bloomer."

"You could say that. Still not sure about it though."

"Why?"

"It's a messy world."

"Bad experience?"

"Experiences," you said, correcting me.

You let our hands fall on our stomachs and I hugged you from the back. We didn't talk, letting the silence permeate the darkness of your room. Our breathing didn't coincide, I could feel your heartbeat faster than mine, as if you're afraid, scared for having exposed yourself in a way that you weren't used to. I hugged you tighter if only to let you know that it's okay. I loved the nakedness of you, but it scared me too, because I knew I had to be careful; I had to tread lightly or I might lose you.

I could change for you, if you would let me. I'll be better. I wanted to whisper that to you, if only to reassure you. But it was something I knew that you've heard many times. And so I didn't tell you. Instead I told myself that I'll prove to you that I'm different. I would be different.

I felt you move and get up from the bed. The sudden emptiness of what I was hugging made me realize that we both had fallen asleep. I opened my eyes and saw you in your boxers. You looked manly and sturdy without your clothes on and, in my dreamy half-wakefulness, the push and pull of our bodies, the friction and warmth as we rubbed against each other the night before came back with a rawness that made me go stiff.

"What time is it?" I asked you.

"It's three o'clock in the afternoon," you said. "I'm gonna make us some lunch."

"Can I help?"

"No, you sleep."

I pretended to be asleep when I heard you walk back to the room. I didn't fall back to sleep; the smell of chicken being fried wafted in the room and it was hard to sleep from that and a hungry stomach. Instead I waited until you came back and let you wake me up.

We stepped out of the room half-naked together. It was the first time I saw your place in daylight. A one-bedroom unit that looked sleek and minimalist with a small, square glass table beside the living room, where a 42" LCD TV sat as the main attraction. The kitchen has a flattop stove, not the old ringed ones, and the evidence of what you had cooked was still on it. It looked well-scrubbed and well-kept.

"Do you have a housekeeper come in?" I asked.

"No, I clean on weekends."

"You mean today?"

"No, silly. Yesterday."

You asked me if I was out while we were eating. And I said yes. Even to my family. An ex-boyfriend stormed our house after we had broken up and outed me to my father, my mother and my sister. My parents tried to talk to me, as if it was a disease, a malaise that can be cured. But when I told them that I've always known, my Dad and I got into an argument about honor and gossip and everything that others would say about me and our family.

It was a heated argument that gave him a heart attack. We drove him to the hospital, but he was DOA. My mother and sister blamed me for it. They didn't tell anyone what caused the heart attack. They kept it to themselves and it became one of the many things we don't talk about. I was with them during the funeral, but they acknowledged me only because there were relatives and mourners around. When everyone was gone and the three of us were left alone in the house, my sister told me that it would be better if I move out of the house as soon as possible. It would be hard for my mother, she told me, to see me everyday. I moved out from our Novaliches house three days later and has since stayed in Makati.

"When was this?" You asked me.

"When I was 24." The recollection brought a sting in my heart. The feeling of being ostracized, after all these years, can still hurt. "But I'm okay now. It's been a long time."

"It must have been hard," you said.

"Yeah, but mostly it's been lonely."

"I don't think I could come out to my parents," you said as a way of shifting the topic.

"I understand. Your father might have you dead by a firing squad."

"Yes," you said, laughing.

"So you're still thinking of getting married someday?"

"I don't know. Who knows. Maybe one day I'll be strong enough to be who I am. Maybe one day it wouldn't matter what others would say about me. But for now, I really don't know. The gay world can be too messy for me. It's not exactly a very enticing life. I mean, if I had my way, I would have preferred if I were born straight. It's less complicated."

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